The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) report is an excellent piece of work, with many important ideas within it.  The Mayor and Combined Authority should consider it carefully and adopt its recommendations.

Climate change is a thin thread running through it, although as it says “The topic of climate change does not sit easily in any one section of this report – it is a threat which cuts across all areas. The low-lying nature of the area makes it especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns may in time damage the local economy. Climate change is already having a damaging effect on biodiversity and could put strain on the water supply. The severity of these issues means they must not be ignored. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough must play its part in meeting the stipulations of the Climate Change Act, and reducing greenhouse gases by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.”

We welcome the call for “local government, Ofgem, and UKPN to start seriously planning for the new energy future, where individuals will buy and sell energy from one another in local grid systems independent of the main grid”  It is ridiculous that inspiring, major developments like the new Eddington district of Cambridge cannot switch on their Combined Heat and Power system for lack of grid capacity, and that there are schools that are unable to install solar panels without paying seven-figure sums to have the local network upgraded

We also welcome the call for the Mayor to “use his bus franchising powers under the Devolution Deal to improve the regularity of bus services to and between market towns” Buses are important – particularly for tackling isolation and access to employment in rural areas.  Innovative ‘mobility services’ providers are developing new ways of using buses and shared vehicles and these should be encouraged and supported.

The need to improve rail links is mentioned, but we would have liked to see more emphasis on the importance of rail rather than road. As experience has repeatedly shown, both in the UK and elsewhere, blindly expanding roads just leads to more traffic, more air pollution and congestion that is ultimately just as bad as before.  There are important trends at work that are changing both the preferred modes of travel, and the overall need to travel. These trends mean that investment in road infrastructure brings a serious risk of becoming a stranded asset.

It is no coincidence that the hot spots for business growth are those with good rail connections, as demonstrated by Microsoft Research’s move from a site in West Cambridge by the M11, to new offices next to Cambridge Station.

The report rightly emphasises the importance of “place making” and called for quality in development.  It celebrates the examples of Vauban and Freiburg, which have created genuinely attractive and sustainable cities. Both are reducing the need to travel and are aggressively minimising energy use in housing through “passive” design and high insulation standards. We would like to see more attention paid to how these attractive design principles can be adopted throughout the Combined Authority region.

For example in London, the Mayor has set a “zero Carbon “ standard for developments of over 10 houses. Those that don’t achieve at least a 35 per cent reduction in regulated carbon dioxide emissions (ie better than normal building regulations) on-site have to pay a levy to the relevant borough. This money is ring fenced for measures that reduce carbon emissions.

A similar policy in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority area could provide much needed source of finance for local councils to help secure our low carbon future.

Carbon Neutral Cambridge is calling for the creation of an independent Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Climate Commission to explore all these ideas in more detail in order to recommend low carbon policy options for the Combined Authority, following the example set by the CPIER in this report.